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Beartooth Regular
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The right to hunt, fish, trap

Voters OK inserting pastimes protection into Wisconsin Constitution

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Last Updated: April 2, 2003

Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the state constitution assuring the right to hunt, fish and trap in the state.

Without any organized opposition, the measure had been expected to pass easily.

The only statewide referendum proposal on the general election ballot asked residents to determine whether fishing, hunting and trapping rights will be guaranteed in Wisconsin.

The measure was proposed by Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Town of Norway), who was not surprised to see the referendum measure approved by residents.

"I think it really shows how strong our hunting and fishing heritage is here in Wisconsin and how many people believe that and believe this is a God-given right, which is why a majority of folks voted that way," Gunderson said.

Voters approved inserting an amendment giving people "the right to fish, hunt, trap and take game subject only to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law" into the constitution's Declaration of Rights.

The amendment allows the state to regulate hunting and fishing but stops it from imposing unreasonable restrictions on sporting activities.

The Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly approved the amendment in two consecutive sessions, a requirement to change the state constitution. Only four legislators voted against the proposal, including Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who said it was a trivial reason to change the state constitution.

The amendment was pushed by sportsmen's groups worried about the possibility of restrictions on traditional outdoor pastimes in light of the contentious debate a few years ago over hunting mourning doves.

Wisconsin is now the seventh state, including Minnesota, to enact such a guarantee.

It's the first addition to the constitution's Declaration of Rights since 1997, when voters approved an amendment guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms.

Gunderson conceded hunting and fishing rights are not threatened in Wisconsin. The pastimes are immensely popular - about 700,000 hunt deer with firearms each fall. But he said he worries about the possibility of special interest groups attempting to take away hunting, fishing and trapping privileges.

A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 2, 2003.

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